2012 Wide Receivers Positional Preview - Upgrade or Downgrade?

MINNEAPOLIS - SEPTEMBER 18: Da'Jon McKnight #6 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers carries the ball into the endzone for a touchdown after catching a pass during the game against the USC Trojans on September 18 2010 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis Minnesota. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Da'Jon McKnight is the only receiver not returning next year. McKnight had a very solid Gopher career, especially when you consider that he was a 2-star recruit who didn't begin playing football till his junior year of high school. Overall he finished with 30 starts, 119 receptions, 1,859 yards and 15 TDs and finishes as the 7th best Gopher receiver in the program's history.

In spite of a very weak passing game that ranked 2nd to last in the Big Ten, McKnight posted a very solid senior season. His SR year numbers won't jump off the page (51 catches, 760 yards, 4 TDs) but they were by far the best of anyone else wearing maroon and gold. The second leading receiver on last year's roster was Brandon Green who had 15 catches for 190 yards. Malcolm Moulton gave us 14 receptions for 174 yards and nobody else had 10 receptions to their credit. So to say that the receiving corp is inexperienced and has a lot to prove is an understatement. I do believe there are a few very talented receivers on the roster, but they are young and we may not see them nearing their potential this fall. Let's take a look at the entire group of scholarship receivers.

  • Brandon Green - As mentioned Green is our leading returning receiver but that doesn't mean he is the best bet to become a go-to receiver. The former four-star recruit in the vaunted 2008 recruiting class was one of my favorite commitments but Green has never exactly lived up to his recruiting ranking, though that may be partly due to injury. He started five games as a true freshman and appeared to have big things in front of him. His sophomore year showed very similar stats and overall impact. Then his junior season was cut short after two games due to major knee injury, for which he was granted a medical hardship waiver. 2011 then became his real junior season and as has been pointed out he managed just 15 receptions. Now he gets to his fifth and final season in a Gopher uniform with a chance to be a leader and rack up some bigger numbers. Green's biggest issue will be getting separation from defensive backs and getting himself open, much of this stems from the knee injury. When open he makes good plays and has very good hands. I expect a much more productive season out of Green, but I'm not banking on a break-out year. Green is the only scholarship, senior wide receiver on the roster.
  • Malcolm Moulton - Last year as a sophomore JUCO transfer Moulton put up very similar numbers to Green, but I feel as though he was a mirror image of Green. Moulton, particularly early in the season, was often able to get open and in position to make some big plays but had trouble catching the ball. Good speed and a strong receiver, Moulton could be a guy who makes a big jump in production this year. I expect that he'll be a starter and will have the opportunity to be a play-maker for the passing game.
  • Victor Keise - A junior from Florida who also has had injury setbacks to his career. Keise made some noise last year during spring practice and even fall practices but it never materialized into significant playing time or production. You will likely see #84 on the field at times but I do not expect you will see him make much of an impact.
  • Previous TDG Related Posts
    * 2011 Wide Receiver Upgrade/Downgrade
    * Projecting the 2012 Offense


    2012 Positional Previews

    * Offensive Line
  • AJ Barker - Another junior who I do not expect will see much action. Barker has one career catch for 17 yards.
  • Devin Crawford-Tufts - Now we get to the juicy classes. DCT leads a group of sophomore receivers who stand the best chance at breaking out and making a significant impact in the Gopher passing game. The tall, speedster from Edina had a very nice season as a true freshman with his signature game coming with 100 yards and a touchdown in the Iowa win. DCT is very fast, hopefully he'll be able to use his speed this year to stretch the defense and be a real big-play guy. Getting tougher, more precise with his routes and being more consistent are areas he'll need to improve. I am very anxious to see what kind of progress he has made from year one to year two.
  • Marcus Jones - Jones is also fast but unlike DCT he has an element of quickness and elusiveness to him. He is perfectly suited to be a slot receiver who can catch the ball in an open middle of the defense, make linebackers miss and then accumulate big chunks of yards. Injured last year in week 8 but racked up 9 catches for 142 yards in the first seven. Also excelled at returning kicks where he housed one at Michigan (that was called back on a lame penalty) and then got one that counted for 92 yards against Purdue. Jones is a playmaker and if that knee is healthy he will be a key weapon on the offense.
  • Isaac Fruechte - (Pronounced FRECK-tee) A sophomore JUCO transfer who is reported to have good speed to go with this 6-3, 205 lb frame. A Minnesota native who wanted to be a Gopher and will have the opportunity to get playing time this fall.
  • Andre McDonald - The Hopkins receiver who has received an awful lot of publicity before appearing on the field for a snap. McDonald was a four-star receiver who had offers from a number of major BCS schools and eventually came to the Gophers. McDonald is a playmaker who goes up to get every ball thrown his way. I don't know that he will be blowing by defenders in the Big Ten but I do expect he will be a go-to receiver who makes big plays and highlight reel catches. His playing time will be one of the more interesting storylines of fall camp. Maybe he redshirts and matures before bursting onto the scene next year or maybe he is too good to keep on the sidelines and he plays in week 1.
  • Jamel Harbison - Last but not least is the other incoming freshman, four-star receiver. The North Carolina native chose the Gophers over Wake Forest, NC State, Virginia, West Virginia and Vandy while scoring 21 touchdowns last season on a 13-1 team. At 6-0, 195 he would also seem best suited in the slot with a bit more girth than Jones. He has good speed and initial burst off the line, he too may redshirt or he may be too valuable to be kept off the field.
  • KJ Maye - another true freshman, Maye is a speedy athlete who may see action at running back, receiver or maybe even get moved to the secondary. Maye was a quarterback in high school. Based on some recent comments from MarQueis Gray, Maye will see some time at both running back and receiver. I would bet he will get redshirted and we will talk more about him a year from now.
  • I believe that those are your nine or ten guys most likely to see action at receiver this season. With just one senior and a number of very talented sophomores and freshmen, this is a group that one could get excited about. I hesitate to get too excited this year as there is so much that is yet unproven. A lot of things will have to go "right" for this group to be a factor that Big Ten defenses get concerned about. Look for a smaller corp of receivers to see the majority of snaps this season, who those players are is the big question mark.

    Limegrover during an interview with 1500ESPN.com in June. "Our kids work hard ... but there still needs to be that group of guys that really separate themselves and allows the whole offense to be working off each other, route-wise. ... I think that's what allows your offense to really take that next step from going from kind of getting by and making a play here and there to being consistent."

    Overall I believe this group will be deeper than it was a year ago but without a go-to receiver like McKnight I fear it will be a slight downgrade. 2013 I can get very excited about, 2012 is going to be a necessary year of growth to get us there.

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